A Letter to My Mother on Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

You brought me into this world.
You raised me.
You taught me to be a caring, polite, honest and hard-working individual.
I have much to thank you for.

You were always a very caring mother.
Even though you always worried so much…..
Too much, in fact.
You worried so much that you drove me and my brothers bonkers.
Your incessant worrying made for a very tough time growing up as your daughter.

You always did tell me, wait until you have your own child(ren), and
Then you will know what it’s like to be a mother.
Looking back, I do realize you were just trying to be the best mother you can be,
Just as I now want to be the best mother I can be too.

I remember how we used to fight a lot.
Much of it was due to no one being able to see things from the perspective of the other.
And dad was a catalyst to our fights.
My unhappy teenage years didn’t help matters.
Things were tough for me growing up.
I hated school and where we lived so much.

But I know things were tough for you too.
You lived far away from your own parents….
So far away that you only saw them a couple times since you came here in the 1950s,
Seeking a better life for yourself and future family.
You always just grinned and trod on,
Focused on ensuring your children did well in life.

Life has not been that fair for you, I know
And I wish I could have changed your experiences and circumstances
So you could’ve had a better life
That you didn’t have to spend so many lonely days at home alone
After my brothers and I moved out and
While dad worked all day, 7 days a week.

I wish I knew then what I know now.
That your heightened anxiety and obsessive behaviors,
Your worst enemies,
Should have been treated so that
After you had your surgery in 2012,
Your anxiety and obsessive behaviors wouldn’t compromise your health.
Your soon-to-be-84-year-old self
Still doesn’t look your age
Despite all the medical issues you’ve faced.
Had it not been for your anxiety and obsessive behaviors,
I could see you living up to 100 years old,
Full of the energy and youthfulness I remember seeing
As a child while you sang and danced in the kitchen.

I will never forget your sadness that you couldn’t spend more time with your family.
It pains me to remember.
I wish I could’ve done more for you earlier….
Like send you back to see your family more,
But money was always an issue.

This regret will hang over my head for the rest of my life.
This regret has taught me that
It’s not about material wealth, size of home, or appearance of wealth that matters
So much as the fact that time goes by and people age too quickly
Moments are all too fleeting,
And before you know it, there are so many lost opportunities
To do things you wanted/meant to do
That are now too late to carry out.
I may now have the means to send you home to visit your family.
But you are now too old and frail to travel.

I don’t want any more regrets.
I don’t want to later look back with regret that I didn’t see you as much as I could.
I don’t want to later look back with regret that I didn’t cook for you.
I don’t want any more regrets.

I want to be there for you as much as I can,
Within my abilities and despite my shortcomings,
As I am far from a perfect daughter.

Today, on Mother’s Day, a dreary, rainy, chilly day,
I reflect on my shortcomings as a daughter.
I could’ve spent more time with you.
I could’ve cooked more for you.

But things are not too late.
I can still see you every week.
I can still cook a little for you,
Even though I suck at cooking.

You inspire me to be a better mother.
And a better daughter too.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Love always,
Ivy

What I Know Now About Introversion I Wish I’d Known Earlier

I have this post to thank for bringing me out of the woodwork to blog for the first time in about a month: “Life as an Introverted Child Star.”  What caught my attention was a Quiet Revolution meme that popped up in my Facebook feed this morning with the following words that totally hit home:

Modern American culture assumes extroversion is the default setting for human interaction. It looks at us as an undifferentiated mass of life forms, longing for the next new moment in the spotlight, the next boisterous barbeque, or the next holiday party crammed to the rafters. Some of us are indeed like that. But many of us, probably from within days of conception, are hardwired to warm up slowly, need fewer people, and be easily overwhelmed.

My days at work in the city are so non-stop and stressed that all I want to do with my time not at work is to veg.  Sleep in (which I haven’t had a chance to do in weeks and usually try to do at least every Sunday morning), sit there in the morning with my coffee, listen to the cardinals and robins sing in the back yard, browse my Facebook timeline, and do nothing all day except for the occasional errand.  This is the kind of day I’ve had for the past 3 days.  But while I need this once in a while to keep my sanity in check, balance my insane workweek with the occasional peace and quiet offered by my small but cozy home in the burbs, and basically reboot, I long for company.

Having people over has been a challenge and what I’ve blogged about previously.  Coordinating get-togethers takes time to sync up schedules with another family/ies and cleaning the house (if we host here, which has always been such an effort because I don’t have the time to maintain the house during the work week with the schedule my husband and I have).  Plus my daughter, from the time she was about 2, has always had such an issue warming up to her friends that half the play date would go by before she was finally comfortable enough to interact with her friends.  When she was an infant, she developed colic, and now I think back to those days, wondering if she was colicky due to being over-stimulated.  Introverts are highly sensitive individuals who have the tendency to feel overstimulated and are easily drained, which is why they prefer quiet and solitude.  She also had a biting issue, which as I had mentioned previously was a learned reaction (she was bitten by another child) and now that I think back, she was probably overstimulated from all the kids around her and biting was a way for her to communicate to her daycare providers that she needed attention.  She also suffers from low blood sugar, which manifests itself in the form of a sudden dip in mood, which usually calls for tears and the following demeanor:

troll2

For the past 10 years of my daughter’s life I wondered why she was the way she was.  It wasn’t just shyness.   She hit her milestones just fine.  She smiled, rolled over, sat up, spoke her first words, stood up and walked while holding onto something just fine. It’s just when it came to walking that she waited until she was 15 months old to do by herself.  She was overly cautious, wanting to be absolutely certain she could do it before she attempted to walk on her own.  I suppose her tendency to be cautious, combined with her shyness, made her slow to warm up when it came to any kind of a gathering–whether it be among relatives during holidays, school or a play date.  By the time she warmed up in any social situation, it was almost time to go home.  Other children her age lacked the patience and understanding to wait for her to warm up, so they’d move on. She used to express her dislike for large groups by crying and clinging to me.  Nowadays, she still acts as if she wants to shrink away and disappear during gatherings.  Being an only child no doubt contributes to her desire to either be by herself or at home rather than in a busy, crowded place.  She has found it challenging to make friends in school and would prefer to be by herself rather than participate in group activities she doesn’t care for. She would rather spend time finishing an assignment she didn’t finish during class (she’s a slow worker but over time I’ve come to realize that may be a ploy to excuse herself from recess) than go to recess where she tends to be alone.  It’s too bad they are just now putting in place a Buddy Bench for kids next year to start to take advantage of, as my daughter is moving on to a different school next fall.

Her grandparents and other relatives used to wonder why she was this shy….perhaps it was our fault for not arranging more play dates?  We should encourage her to be less shy?  Ugh, if only they could live in our shoes for just a day, they would know this was not of our doing! If only I had stumbled across this meme earlier, so I can show them so they’d criticize us less!

I try to recall what I used to be like when I was little.  Was I shy?  Yes. Did it take me a long time to warm up? I don’t really recall and my parents don’t think so.  Am I introverted?  I’m still trying to figure that out but from everything I’ve read recently, I don’t believe so.  There are shy extroverts and shy introverts.  Basically, there are various degrees and kinds of extroverts and introverts, which is why I’ve been pondering what I am and what my daughter is for some time now.  The main key to introversion versus extroversion is how one derives their energy.  Extroverted people derive their energy from public places and being around people.  Introverted people derive their energy from quiet activities, like reading (which I’ve always disliked, believe it or not) and places, like libraries (I’ve always felt too quiet for me and books were not my thing).  My idea of a good day is being out and about, preferably with friends.  If I’m not with people, I feel lonely and de-energized. When I’m in a gathering, I’m happy.  Though, as I get older, the crowds are younger and younger, so I’m getting more picky when it comes to the type of gathering I attend.  During my college reunion last week, I was always one of the last ones out of the over 100 classmates to stay up talking and drinking.  I’ve never been sure whether participation in team sports versus one-on-one sports is a factor in determining introversion vs extroversion.  I always liked one-one-one sports, the favorite of which is badminton.  I’ve always been passionate about sailing (but had no trouble staying on board a chartered boat  with strangers 24/7 and sailing with a flotilla of 5-6 boats and mingling with these people daily for 8-10 days at a time).

Now, my husband on the other hand does not like crowds one bit. He hates NYC with a passion (and that’s where I work 5 days a week).  He has never liked going to night clubs or parties where you don’t know most of the people and everyone is packed in with no room to move.  He refuses to drive to and spend time at the shore during the in-season, so the only time we’d go (with him) is in September-October.  His idea of a good day is watching television in his dark man cave. You couldn’t pay him any amount of money to “work a room” the way I used to in my younger years when I was trying to network in the city.  He used to play football, which is a team sport.

It was due to a number of things going on simultaneously with our daughter last fall, at the start of her fifth grade year, that we were concerned there was something going on that warranted assessments for migraines, ADHD, social anxiety disorder, and learning disability.  She has always feared being the center of attention, which meant class participation was a No No for her, which means that her grades suffer for not participating like her peers.  I let my teacher and principal know that it’s a shame that students with this fear get dinged instead of finding a way to nurture her out of her shell.  She fears public speaking just like I’ve always feared public speaking.  Earlier this year, she was frustrated about the sheer amount of home work she was assigned each day.  We always wondered why there was so much of it and it seemed like she was the only one struggling with the amount.  She nearly always worked from the time she got home from after-school care at 5:30 until 10:00 at night.  She’d be in tears half the time.  She only had the one migraine, which we now believe was brought on by dehydration.  We participated in a one-day Child Mind Institute program that tested her cognitive functions, and she tested fine….no learning disabilities.  It was suggested we go through our school district to have her tested for attention deficit to rule that out because she does seem to miss getting her arms around her homework assignments half the time (but then again, that was my issue, and I told her she should not leave the classroom until she asks the teacher for clarification if she doesn’t understand anything at all about her homework). After talking to other parents and a couple of counselors and reading up on introversion vs extroversion and introversion vs social anxiety (“The 4 Differences Between Introversion and Social Anxiety” is an excellent article that is marvelously educational) and ADHD vs anxiety, we’ve finally determined that she’s a shy introvert that feels easily overwhelmed/anxious in school due to her perfectionist tendencies and therefore works more slowly on her class work and homework than the average student.  I know that girls who go into puberty are at more risk of becoming depressed due to hormonal changes and the changes that come with changes to their body, so I have been keeping a close eye on her and have not seen any signs of that.  I will continue to keep a close eye on her knowing my past experience with postpartum depression (PPD).

Thank goodness to the resources I’ve recently come across on Facebook:  Child Mind Institute and Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, I’ve learned more from the past couple of months than I did the past 10 years combined. I am also currently reading Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts,” which I have recommended to the principal of my daughter’s school to make it recommended reading for fifth graders, and I will also discuss this with the principal of our middle school in the fall. All middle schoolers, parents, and teachers should read the book.  It is important for parents and educators alike to know how to help an introverted child thrive and perform better in school and social situations.  The book explains what introversion is and the biology behind introversion (I love books that explain the science behind things).  Another article that I found on-point is a Washington Post On Parenting article by Amy Joyce dated May 25, 2016 titled “Your introverted child has secret strengths, says Susan Cain in her new book ‘Quiet Power.’

One of the best, most educational article I’ve read thus far about introversion, extroversion, shyness, social anxiety, sitters, rovers was written by Susan Cain in the NY Times on 6/25/11.  It’s titled “Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?”  There is a mix of people for a reason, through the evolutionary process of natural selection. If you have never read this, PLEASE take the time to read it. I promise you it will be a very interesting read!

To see how much you know in terms of the differences between introversion and extroversion, test your knowledge with this quiz.

It has been a long path to awareness that I wish people could’ve just come out and told us years ago.  It could’ve made a huge difference when my daughter was 1 to 2 years of age.  The self doubt that came about from lack of experience from how to handle her behavior in day care certainly didn’t help back when I was a mom with PPD. We could’ve approached things differently and things may not be the way they are for her today with her shyness and introversion and anxiety about doing well.

In any event, I choose not to look back and say “what if” and regret what could have been, but rather to look forward and continue to do the best we can to nurture her with the knowledge we now have.

What Food Sensitivities Might Mean in the Grand Scheme of Things

This morning, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about yesterday’s article by Rachel Rabkin Peachman in Motherlode (NY Times) titled “Picky Eating in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression and A.D.H.D.”  This was not the only article that was motivated by yesterday’s Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics article titled “Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating” in which Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., eating disorders specialist, and associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. shares her findings.  There was also a Medline Plus article yesterday titled “Severe ‘Picky Eating’ May Point to Mental health Issues in Kids” and Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy titled “What Picky Eating Might Mean for Children Later.” I know this isn’t about postpartum depression (PPD), but as I’ve said before, PPD has its roots earlier in life, which is why I choose to blog about and spread awareness about those roots.  I also want to tackle feelings of guilt and shame felt by mothers over things like picky eaters and food sensitivities. For example, a kid may have food sensitivities that are biological in nature, so there is absolutely zero reason for a mother to feel guilt/shame over the situation.  Sure, you should do what you can to introduce new foods slowly over time (remember, do all things in moderation and you can’t go wrong), but forcing a child to eat something when he is hell bent against it will not help matters one bit.  The approach of “If a child refuses to eat, don’t give him anything to eat and send him to his room; he’ll eat whatever you give him if he is hungry enough” is not the way to go at all, IMO. Dr. Zucker has also indicated that having kids eat processed foods (like chicken nuggets….either the frozen variety or the McDonald’s variety) should not alarm or cause parents to feel guilt/shame, since consistency in texture and taste is important to a child who might be tentative/uncertain overall and especially when it comes to eating.  Some experience sensory overload and become overwhelmed easily when it comes to taking in everything via their senses of smell, vision, hearing….and taste.   These kids have difficulty processing all the stimuli around them and go on sensory overload.  Chicken nuggets aren’t like broccoli.  They’re not bitter little tree lookalikes with little “leaves” and mushy in some cases, hard to chew in other cases, depending on how they are cooked or how fresh they are. In the Medline article, Dr. Zucker states:

They have a stronger sensitivity to the world outside and to how their body feels. That sets them up to have more vivid experiences — more intense food experiences, more intense emotional experiences. None of that is pathological, but it could be a vulnerability for later problems.

You may want to ask yourself whether you are a picky eater (and if so, whether you are also hypersensitive to smell, noise, visual cues and oral textures).  Here are the results of my self examination:

  • Picky eater?  check (for my daughter, not sure if I was once a picky eater, but I don’t believe I am that picky.  I won’t eat everything, and I think that’s absolutely normal)
  • Hypersensitive to smell? check for me (I can smell things that have caused people to liken me to a canine)
  • Hypersensitive to noise? check (I can hear things that have caused people to liken me to a canine; high-pitched grinding of subways to a halt, subtle background noises at work that all my co-workers don’t hear/tune out yet are highly distracting and irritating to me)
  • Hypersensitive to visual cues? check (for my daughter; whereas, I have extremely myopic vision, so I can’t say this applies to me; my sense of smell and hearing more than make up my lack of vision)
  • Hypersensitive to oral textures? check (for my daughter; I’m not sure if I was like this as a kid)

While a distaste for broccoli is not indicative of an issue since it’s fairly common for kids to refuse to eat it (it’s like beer and some other drinks and foods that take a few tries before you acquire a taste for it), when food aversions and smells becomes too overwhelming for a child as to prevent him from being able to tolerate eating out altogether, that’s when you know you have a case of extreme sensitivity for which parents should seek professional help (as the study has found a greater likelihood of depression or social anxiety later in life).  When a child has a limited number of foods he/she likes and can tolerate being exposed to other foods without any issues, that’s when there is a moderate sensitivity to food.  Moderately picky eaters usually broaden their palate over time, much like my daughter is doing slowly but surely, much to my relief!  Some children have a limited diet due to physical reasons such as acid reflux, which is not easy to figure out when a baby experiences this (from drinking milk and then after an intro to solid foods).  It’s not like the baby can tell you that she has acid reflux or feels sick drinking or eating certain things.  Hence, the trial and error and much anxiety and concern that ensue….not fun in the least! From the Motherlode article:

[Picky] eaters are not simply stubborn or tyrannical children whose parents have given in to their culinary whims. Rather, the research reveals that picky eaters have a heightened sensitivity to the world that is innate. “Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings,” said Dr. Zucker, who is also director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders. “They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

Also:

“It is a reminder that food is not a stand-alone issue and that it plays a role in the big picture of development,” said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and co-author of “Food Fights: Winning the nutritional challenges of parenthood armed with insight, humor, and a bottle of ketchup.” “How kids behave around food relates to how they interact with the world in general. It doesn’t surprise me that some kids who are really tentative around food might be really tentative in life.”

I am so glad the research was performed and results shared across major news outlets like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. and subsequently shared all over social media.  The information is very critical and can make a hugely beneficial impact to parents struggling with their kids’ tastes for food know when to get help versus when to chalk up as something kids will grow out of as their palates broaden and become “more sophisticated.”  Per the Motherlode article, approximately 20% of children are picky eaters, so you can see it’s a fairly common challenge faced by parents.  And per Dr. Zucker, there is a correlation between picky eating and mental health challenges down the road, like depression and/or anxiety.

Paving the Way for Emotional Health In Teen Girls

Since its release, the movie “Inside Out” has helped put emotional health on the front burner of discussions and will hopefully make it a lot easier for families to talk about emotions on a regular basis.  This movie was, quite simply, brilliant in going somewhere no other film for children has ever gone (at least none that I’m aware).  Why?  Cuz emotions and mental health are topics that people have historically tiptoed about as if they were walking on eggshells.  It’s time we extracted our heads from out of the hole of ignorance, taboo and stigma.  There ain’t nothin’ about emotions and mental health that should warrant keeping our heads buried like that.  Nothin’ at all……….

I sincerely believe that “Inside Out” can be instrumental in helping children to better understand their emotions and realize that feeling sad is just as critical as feeling happy, it’s NORMAL to feel negative emotions like sadness and anger, and all emotions should be expressed rather than suppressed.  A good way to express/release/process your emotions is to talk about them or even write about them.

I’ve found that many adults have enough challenges in understanding/coping with/expressing/releasing/processing their own emotions, let alone help their children understand/cope/express/release/process theirs.  And thus the critical need for resources from experienced professionals that are abundantly available out there.  You just need to know how to find them.

I have mentioned one invaluable resource for girls in previous posts, and I want to bring it up again today.  It’s Girls Leadership.  Although the focus of my blog is on maternal mental health and mothers were all young girls at one point–all too many of whom have faced issues early in life that pave the way to the adults they are today–the information within the Girls Leadership articles below applies to boys as well.  If you are a parent of a girl, read through the website’s posts on a wide variety of topics, including confidence, identity, body image, books, school, friendships, role models, and conflict.  What a difference it would’ve made to me while growing up if such resources had been available to my mother, if I had had a better relationship with my mother, if I had had a network of support, and if I had had a mentor in my life. Speaking of mentor, “How to Find a Mentor” by Joanne Wilson on July 2, 2015 is a must read! The Girls Leadership posts I ran across in the past couple of weeks are:

  1. Emotional Intelligence Workout: respecting/expressing your feelings critical to development of emotional intelligence (EI)
  2. Removing the Stigma: understanding/talking about /seeking help for mental illness, which applies to 11% of teenagers by the time they hit 18; girls more susceptible than boys
  3. A Powerful New Tool for Girls’ Courage & Confidence: Self-Compassion: practicing mindfulness and self-compassion rather than self-destructive thinking

I want to bring particular attention to the 3rd post because it highlights issues all too many girls face, which are explained in such an on-point fashion in this post the likes of which I have not seen anywhere else to date:

  • tendency to dwell / fixate on their problems rather than realize/following through on solutions
  • tendency to feel more shame / self hatred than boys
  • tendency to feel the need to “fit in” and they are thus more easily influenced by social media, which appeal to girls more than boys.  Social media sites, such as Instagram and Facebook (which I will not allow my daughter to access until she can drive), are just another way to make girls feel more isolated and bad about themselves because these sites, for the most part, only provide glimpses of the positive moments in other people’s lives.  Let me illustrate. My Facebook circle is a rather small one compared to other people’s circles.  Of this circle less than 50% are considered active (i.e., log on, post, like and comment at least a few times a week).  Of my active Facebook friends, only about 5% post things that are truly accurate reflections of what’s going on in their minds and lives….like me.  I say what’s on my mind without sugar coating anything.  Of the remaining 95% or so of the active posters, you’ll see the accomplishments, smiling faces, and all is fine-and-dandy posts / pictures (with a couple people doing it more regularly than others).  It’s these kinds of posts that can influence young girls–ones with the tendency to dwell/fixate on problems, feel bad about themselves, and feel like the one priority in life is fitting in/belonging–into comparing themselves with others and believing that everyone else is living much better and happier lives.  Hence, the “why me, my life sucks” mindsets.  These sites are just as anti-social as they are “social” because rather than encouraging face-to-face interactions, they make you believe that interaction limited to the Internet is all you need to be “social.”

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

The #1 Killer of Teen Girls Worldwide

I was motivated to write this blog post tonight due to a Telegraph article that appeared in my Facebook feed today written by Nisha Lilia Diu and titled: “Suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide. Here’s why.”

That headline shocked me.  And it is shocking a lot of people, even those firmly entrenched in the fields of global women’s rights.  This headline should shock everyone.  It should shock people into trying to do something to turn those statistics around.

Yes, suicide is now the #1 killer of girls/young women between the ages of 15 and 19.  Suicide has overtaken maternal mortality as the #1 killer of young women in the world….a statistic buried–yes, buried–in the latest World Health Organisation report.  This information does not deserve to be buried.  It needs to be written about, talked about and acted upon!  I am glad Nisha wrote this Telegraph article!  In the article, you’ll see the alarming numbers of suicides in girls ages 15-19 in the different regions of the world.

Teen girls ages 15-19 face, regardless of location:

  • hormone changes
  • emotional changes (e.g., increase in vulnerability and decline in self confidence)
  • behavior changes (e.g., attracting mate, sex drive, competition)
  • identity issues (e.g., acceptance among peers, desire to fit in, peer pressure)

Add to that the following disadvantages society places on women, including:

  • societal expectations
  • disempowerment
  • marginalization

Add to that the use of social media throughout much of the world.  I’ve blogged in the past about it, but I will sum up the basics of the detrimental impact social media can have on emotionally vulnerable teen girls.  The malicious words of a complete stranger, aka troll, that confirm an emotionally vulnerable teenager’s feelings (i.e., self hate, thoughts of suicide) by saying things like “Yeah, you’re ugly alright. Why don’t you just go kill yourself.”  These are the trolls I wish more than anything in the world–with the exception of the complete eradication of mental health stigma, terrorism, misogny and people killing each other–can be located and zapped from existence.  Like in a video game.  These haters are a danger to others and need to be stopped.

I need to mention the tragic story of 12 year old Izzy, which I learned about from this blog post last week.  While we do not know what exactly led to her being publicly shamed online by her father after he hacked her hair, and it is unlikely that the video alone led to her jumping out of a car and off a bridge to her death, what I do know is that ANY teen acting out (e.g., doing drugs, rebellious behavior, locking themselves in their rooms) needs help, NOT punishment or public shaming.  FULL STOP.

As in so many cases you will read about in the news of teens taking their own lives, there may have been no signs that they were distressed to the point that they felt they had to end their lives to escape the pain with which they are struggling.  Today, I came across this touching obituary written by the parents of Clay Shephard in North Carolina, whose son was smiling despite what was driving his drug addictions. There was no indication whatsoever that he was going to take his own life.  Included in the obituary were these words that sound very much like my post about a fellow alum’s son’s sudden tragic passing a few months ago:

To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them – even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath.

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

It’s with knowledge that there is any hope of REDUCING STIGMA AND REDUCING DEPRESSION!

Let’s Face It, Your Kids Can’t Avoid Bullies and Mean Kids – But You Can Help Them Develop Problem Solving Skills

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events ***

I am so tired of feeling devastated, seeing the constant posts of children taking their own lives.  Reading about teen suicides that seem to be occurring more and more frequently is truly heartbreaking.

There’s 11 year old Michael Morones who was bullied (and is now in a persistent vegetative state from hanging himself) for being a My Little Pony fan.  Every time I see his beautiful face on my Facebook feed, I just want to break down and cry.

Then there’s Ashley Payton who was driven to bullycide on February 5, 2014,  just shy of her 16th birthday.  A girl who was so beautiful and yet was convinced she wasn’t.  Self esteem issues seemingly at play here, as is at the heart of all too many other teen-related issues like eating disorders (anorexia/bulimia), cutting, drugs, and depression….just to name a few.

And finally, there’s the article in the Clarion Ledger dated April 12, 2014 titled “Anti-bullying Laws Fail to Stem Youth Suicide” by Emily Le Coz, which is what motivated me to write this post today.  The article reveals frightening statistics of the numbers of youth suicides each year and how bullying is most often cited as the root of the epidemic, despite anti-bullying laws in place in most states.  The article mentions 15-year-old Lyndsey Taylor Aust, bullied for merely having acnie, was but one of THREE suicides in her school within ONE MONTH period (this is what is referred to as a “contagion effect”).

Sure, schools have some form of anti-bullying policy in place, but I have yet to hear about a school that has an effective one.  For one thing, instead of an environment of transparency in schools, you have one that is controlled by fear that stems from the stigma of depression and suicide. Instead of transparency and a culture that TRULY cares about the welfare of students, schools fear doing anything to change the negative culture, hence the sweeping of depression, suicide and bullying under the rug.  There is a price to pay for such willful ignorance.  Look at what happened at Scott County Central High School in Mississippi….three suicides in ONE MONTH.

The fact of the matter is our children are feeling hopeless and helpless enough to end their own precious lives.  There have been arguments that bullying is not necessarily the sole and direct cause of all youth suicides.  That it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Well, there is ABSOLUTELY a correlation between victims of bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts, according to a study published in the March 2014 edition of JAMA Pediatrics.  You can also review the booklet posted over on the CDC website titled The Relationship Between Bullying & Suicide.  Both parents and educators should familiarize themselves with this information.

If there are self esteem issues that are leading toward changes in behavior/sleep/eating, depression should be looked at and treated. In a number of recent cases I’ve read about recently, I noticed that parents indicated there was absolutely no sign whatsoever that anything was out of the ordinary.  Their children seemed like their happy, normal selves.  I don’t know any of these families’ situations, but there is a greater tendency to bully or be bullied in the following situations in which a stable support system is lacking:

  1. Greater numbers of single parents than ever before
  2. Dual-career parents who are busy working long hours at full-time jobs and spending less time at home with the kids and providing positive behavior role modeling, interaction, and simply listening opportunities
  3. Risk factors for depression and other mental health issues, like eating disorders, self esteem issues, family history of mental illness, extreme poverty, emotional/physical abuse, lack of nurturing, etc.

I am not in any way blaming any parents whose children took their own lives.  I’m imploring ALL parents to be more in tune with their children. If there is an underlying mental health issue, then PLEASE get help for them.  If you see that there are changes in demeanor, behavior, diet, and sleep, please observe, talk to and listen….REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY AND REALLY OBSERVE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND MANNERISMS CLOSELY.  If they refuse to open up to you, please try to get them a neutral third party–someone experienced with teen issues and depression, like a family counselor–to talk to them.  Put aside any feelings of shame or fear from the stigma of mental illness.

If you are of the camp of parents who believes the best way your children will learn to adapt to and survive in this world is by doing it with very little to no guidance from you, I implore you to put aside any feelings you may have that, since you toughed it up and lasted through mean kids and got through tough times in school, your child can too.  Don’t think for one second that what you went through growing up back in the 60s, 70s or 80s is the same as growing up today in the 21st century when kids are heavy users of social media and can be cyberbullied day and night via texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, and online forums in which teens “hang out” in an often anonymous fashion.  Anonymity affords cyberbullies/trolls access to an easy–albeit even more cowardly than in-person bullying–means to harass, intimidate and taunt in a public forum, and gives others to join in/gang up to make an emotionally vulnerable young individual miserable.  And put aside the belief that it’s impossible for them to ever have any mental health issues because “depression just doesn’t happen to anyone in my household; I wouldn’t allow them to be weak like that.”

In these cases–since we all know that middle and high schools are a breeding ground for kids undergoing hormone changes who, as part of the socialization process that goes with growing up, try to assert themselves in inappropriate ways–we need to ensure our children are prepared.  I’m  not saying we need to be like the helicopter parents that are so oft criticized in parenting articles, and solve all our kids’ problems so we can keep them out of harm’s way.  No, not at all.  I’m saying that we need to provide guidance to our children.  After all, that’s what parents do.  We use our own experiences and wisdom gained from living and learning….and from our own parents.  From the time our children are toddlers, we teach/coach/guide our children to feed themselves, go potty themselves, talk, stand up, walk, change themselves, brush their teeth, behave appropriate/use inside voices in public spaces…and so on.

I can’t help but view a school as one huge boxing ring within which kids are forced to demonstrate their survival skills.  Because school ends up being where kids spend most of their time every day of the school year, it’s not unreasonable for me to say that every school district should help kids with training on how to cope with mean kids.  In fact, I fervently believe schools should be mandated to add to their curriculum–for first grade all the way through twelfth grade–a year long training on social skills.

It’s one thing that schools observe a Week of Kindness every October.  That’s only five days out of a 183-day school year.   Schools will generally have a mission that includes words like emotional wellness, appreciation of diversity, fostering respect.  But let’s face it, since we can’t even get the majority of schools in this country to deal with bullying effectively, the responsibility for teaching our kids coping skills rests on parents.

It is inevitable that there are mean kids in every school.  What we need to focus on is how to provide our children with guidance on how to cope with mean kids.  It is crucial that parents teach their children to adapt to and survive in this world by nurturing, guidance, and simply being there for them.  Providing guidance is not the same thing as making things easier for our kids and fixing all their issues so down the road they have no problem solving skills of their own. I’m talking about helping our children develop skills they need to fix their own problems. Self esteem is a huge issue for all too many teens. Not every teen is going to know how to let mean behavior slide like it took me years to learn how to do myself.

Resources I would like to recommend for both parents and educators (I am early in my research, so more to come in future blog posts):

What I Would Tell My 7th Grade Self

Inspired by the post titled “To My 7th Grade Self” at the blog ronkempmusic.

Just last week (and believe me, it had nothing to do with the post that inspired me because I only read it yesterday– but it further ignited my desire to blog about what I would say to my 7th grade self, if only I could)– I caught myself telling a colleague: “If only I could go back to when I was in junior high and react/behave like my 40-something self.  Things would’ve been so different.  I would’ve given the kids in my school a piece of my mind.  I would’ve reacted/behaved in a ‘I won’t take this crap from no one’ attitude.”

Yes, if only there WERE only such a thing as time travel!

180px-StrangeAtmosphereIf there WERE such a thing, then I would go straight back to 7th grade, when the worst period of my life began and went on for a good six years until I graduated high school.  I hated that school.  My classmates treated me like I was beneath them.  I was, after all, completely lacking in self esteem, shy as all hell, unattractive, poorly dressed, unpopular, friendless and last but not least….the only Chinese girl in a class of approximately 350 students.  And boy, it was the slowest, most painful six years of my life!  If it weren’t for my Biology teacher that I befriended in 10th grade, I would’ve literally been friendless in that entire high school system.  Note: I’m talking about friendships with classmates, not friendships outside of school, which I did have.  I had friends from my Chinese school, Chinese teen club, and Chinese church.  I found making friends in my extremely caucasian–and very racist– high school quite an exercise in futility.

Back then, I HATED my life.  HATED it with every ounce of my being.  I just wanted to drop off the face of the earth.  I was lonely.  I felt like life had no purpose if I was going to be such an outcast and people who weren’t of the same ethnicity were going to be so racist toward me.  That was not a battle that, back then, I had any energy or interest in fighting.  It didn’t help that my parents and I fought all the time, and my brother and I fought all the time.

My friends and blog followers know me to have taken up the cause of not only postpartum depression advocacy, but anti-bullying advocacy as well.  As you can see, the roots of my anti-bullying advocacy date back to my 7th grade to 12th grade years.  Back then–in the late 70s, early 80s– there was no Internet, and hence, there was no such thing as cyberbullying when I was in school….and thank goodness for that!   I wasn’t bullied to the extent that kids today are bullied.  Kids said mean things to me due to my race and appearance, and no one made any attempts to be friends with me.  Didn’t help that I had no friends going into the school because I was new to the area, having just moved there in time for the start of junior high school.  Talk about LOUSY timing!

Having no Internet had its pluses and its minuses.  What minuses?  Well, for one thing, where did a teen turn for help in getting through the angst and feeling like no one understands them and what they are going through?  Going to parents wasn’t really an option, in general, for most teens….and it still isn’t really an option, in general, today.  Why?  In my case, and in the case of many first-generation-born-in-the U.S. kids, the previous generation was born and raised in a different country with different cultural standards, perspectives and practices.  As in the case of my parents, they had it much tougher than we did.  Hence, there is a gap between their experiences and yours….and never the twain shall meet.  Even if the prior generation were born here, there is STILL a generation gap.  And all too often, there are plenty of challenges due to that gap….and never the twain shall meet.

Friends with whom you trust your feelings can serve as an outlet, but I didn’t have any close enough for me to confide in.  I pretty much kept it all to myself, feeling hopeless, lost and desperate to the point that I felt like ending it all quite a number of times–but thankfully was too afraid to carry it out–with frequent lashing out at my parents for not understanding and only making things worse for me.  The huge fights we used to get into tore a huge hole in our relationship that took until after I had my own child to mend.

A non-judgmental ear and someone with experience in providing guidance/mentoring is what is needed, and usually you would find that in the form of a guidance counselor or a mental healthcare professional.  The guidance counselor in my school was absolutely of NO help, and I went to a psychiatrist once, but I had zero patience with talking to someone who looked like they didn’t really care and couldn’t make a difference.  So I never went back.

Now, getting to what I would tell my 7th grade self.  Here is what I would say:

I know you are hating life right now, but please hang on.  I know you will find it hard to believe  that you will learn to really enjoy life.  It WILL have meaning.  You will adopt a work hard, play hard, live for the day attitude.  You will grab life by the horns, determined to explore different activities, fall in love with traveling and sailing, have a family, and experience life to the fullest.

Right now, you may feel like life has no purpose, that you’d be better off not existing because then you would no longer have to endure the loneliness and each day of the tortuously slow and miserable school year for the next 6  years.  You may feel like you’re the only one who is having family challenges, but believe me, you are far from alone in that area!  So many kids have dysfunctional families.  Some are able to mend their relationships with their parents and/or siblings down the road.  Others aren’t so fortunate.  You will be able to have a much healthier relationship with your parents once you get married and have a child of your own.

I promise you that, even though you don’t feel as if you have any talents, you do!  You will find that your strength is writing, even though you will hate writing papers in high school.  You will find, with time, that you will sing in choirs for the next dozen years….all through high school, college and even in New York City choirs after you start working in New York City.  You will spend six weeks on a trip of your life in Taiwan, after which you will come back a changed person.  On that trip, you will find that you have the ability to make friends easily with anyone.  You will have a family, and in the process, have a life-changing experience that will result in your becoming a published author and blogger.  You will figure out that your purpose is to take your own personal experiences of bullying, lack of guidance/mentoring in school, and motherhood to help others.  To help others NOT to have to suffer the way you did.

You are NOT ALONE in your teen experiences.  Most teens go through what is referred to as teen angst that is the result of the hormonal changes that come with puberty.  These changes, in turn, cause emotional changes that impact behavior and even ways of thinking.  Yes, you will experiences feelings of pain and hopelessness like none other you’ve experienced to date.  You have NOT had enough life experience to develop coping skills and perspective on things that you will have after you have first gone through a number of challenges that will cross your path.  These challenges may seem unnecessary to you and only serve to make life harder for you right now, but in actuality, they will serve to make you a stronger individual.

You, my dear, are a SURVIVOR.  Believe me, things DO get better.

If only there WERE such a thing as time travel.   I wish it were possible to tell my 7th grade self ALL that, to spare the young version of me the pain that I had to suffer.  But….as Ronkempmusic blog post points out:

There are young people, right now!, right under our noses who need to hear what we would tell our like-aged self if we could…..And, more than anything else, they need to be taught that there’s nothing in the world more powerful than love, but it must start with self love……Since we can’t go back in time and teach our own younger selves, the next best thing is to pass it on to today’s youth.

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing lately.  Instead of merely wishing I could travel back in time to try to change the path my 7th grade self ultimately takes, I am paying it forward with kids who need the help I never got when I was growing up.  One teen resource that is part of a growing anti-bullying movement is the Stand for the Silent closed group on Facebook (more on this in an upcoming post), which has over 33,000 members from around the globe.  I joined this group a few months ago to help provide an encouraging word or two and lend a non-judgmental ear to the teens that reach out for support and encouragement.  I am now regularly commenting (for as much as time will allow) on posts others in the group–mostly teens–leave.  My goal, like many of the other members in the group, is to be there for someone, much in the way I wish someone had been there for me…in my most angst-ridden moments that started when I was in 7th grade and didn’t ease up until I went off to college.

Finding My Tribe

I know, I know….it’s been well over a month since my last blog post….the longest pause from blogging since I started this blog over 4 years ago.

I’ve recently mentioned that, as time goes on, I feel like I am losing momentum when it comes to writing blog posts.  After a while, you just feel like you’re posting the same ol’ stuff over and over again.  I can only blog so much about my  postpartum depression (PPD) experience and what I learned from my road to motherhood…. without sounding like a broken record.  I still look for media developments that give me hope that things are starting to change with regard to public awareness, as well as research that sheds new light on postpartum mood disorders.  My recent attendance at the annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference has inspired me to write this post.

Let me just begin with the fact that– despite the fact that I look Chinese– I act and speak very American.   I’d readily have a conversation in Mandarin with someone from China or Taiwan, and then just as readily turn around and speak to the caucasian person next to me with zero hint of being of Chinese descent (and not even of NJ residency, either, or so I’ve been told).  Standing next to an Asian woman from China or Taiwan, I am painfully aware of how different I am from them.  I am much darker skinned and a heck of a lot heavier.  Growing up, I was always described by my parents’ friends and relatives as “healthy looking” or “sturdy” via a specific word in Chinese.  That’s not really meant to be a compliment or anything.  Just a nicer way of putting the fact that I was “big.”  Funny thing is, when I was a teen (and compared to how I am now), I appeared frail and was always getting sick.  At one point, I considered becoming bulimic (forcing myself to throw up after eating so I could be slimmer), but luckily only tried it once.  It was gross.

Also, unlike so many Asians I know–those born in the states and those born overseas– I’m not reserved or shy with letting people know how I truly feel about something.  I say what’s on my mind.  There’s no holding my thoughts back and I’m finding that, as I get older, my filtering mechanisms don’t work as effectively as they used to!  I mean, c’mon, I blog and wrote a book about my PPD experience, for crying out loud.  I wasn’t like this all my life. It’s more of a recent development that began with my PPD recovery and peaked this past year.

I’ve gotten tired of doing something just in the past year.  What is it, you ask?  Well, I have stopped feeling bad about not being able to make friends with Chinese women (from overseas) whose daughters are about my daughter’s age who are completely the opposite from my daughter in that they look and behave like they’re from overseas.  They speak Mandarin fluently, not to mention are already competitive and driven to succeed.  I get this vibe from these mothers that make me feel like I am on a completely different wavelength (or planet, even) from them.  I carry myself differently from them, speak differently, look different, and see things through a different lens than they do.  Doesn’t help that I feel like a football player next to them….all big boned and “sturdy” looking.  Ha!

All my life I have been looking for a group with which I could readily identify.  Sure, I get along with people easily, in general, but that’s not something I found easy to do until very recently.  When I was a teenager, I didn’t fit in with the rest of my caucasian class of approximately 350 students.  Nor did I fit in with the kids in my Chinese church.  I fit in more with my Chinese teen club because these were kids who were about the same age as me and who, like me, grew up in very caucasian environments as a Chinese American.  But I still didn’t closely identify with any of them. Nothing really changed in college.  Although there were Asian clubs at my alma mater and throughout the Five College area that my alma mater happened to be a part of, as well as at Columbia University and NYU (since I had friends at both those schools), I still didn’t really feel like I truly fit in with anyone in those clubs.  I learned that–we could be Asian-looking on the outside–but that doesn’t matter.  As far as women are concerned, the claws will come out and their lips will flap to turn others against you, and gullible guys (and women) who don’t know any better will listen to them.

And the working world in the Tri-state area hasn’t been that much better.  At work, it’s non-stop work, work, work.  In this day and age, the environment is one of high stress and very little time to have the opportunity to develop friendships with any co-workers.  Sure, I was part of a determined group that started up the very first Asian employee network in the NY metro area for our company, and I’ve made a good number of friends from my involvement with this network for many years.  But again, there was no meaningful bond.

And I won’t even go into detail about my ‘hood because I’ve blogged about this before, and let’s just say that I’ve found it hard to fit in here as well.  I always feel like I’m on a different wavelength with the majority of people living in my immediate area….perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am one of the few mothers that went right back to work promptly after my 3-month maternity leave was up.  Doesn’t help that–like I’ve said previously–I was raised by parents who never really mingled with neighbors or relied on them for anything.  I know I have the ability to change that tradition, but honestly, it’s hard when you work all day long and by the time you get home, it’s only a few hours before you gear up to start the cycle all over again the next morning.  It’s also hard to get beyond the feeling that you are just not as great as parenting as they all are…these mothers who seemed to lead perfect maternal lives, keeping perfect homes, cooking and baking for their families, carpooling with other neighbors’ kids to/from school each day, attending their kids’ soccer matches, etc.  O-M-G.  I’ve been having a hard enough time just scraping by–having emerged from my PPD experience back in 2006–in taking turns with the hubs in rushing off in a panic to drop the kid off  at before care each morning, coming home from work late everyday and trying to scrape a meal together for all of us before it’s time to put the kid to bed.

fence_ISLI refer to my predicament I’ve found myself in all my life as being on a fence.   A fence between people of different wavelengths…not really  fitting in with one particular group or another. Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had good friends for many years, but there was always some invisible barrier preventing me from truly feeling like I was part of a cohesive group, which because of a common bond, that people automatically identify themselves a part of.  In other words, a tribe.  What is a tribe?  Dictionary.com defines it as “any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.”

I’ve been a member of PSI since 2006 and have attended a number of PSI annual conferences to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts. Here’s an excerpt out of my book:

It was at my first Postpartum Support International conference that I felt a sense of belonging, understanding of the pain I’d experienced, and validation that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered such an experience. I finally found a group with whom I shared the common bond of wanting to become more knowledgeable about PPD and wanting to help other women. I felt comfortable and comforted being in their midst. The attendees were, for the most part, PPD survivors who became impassioned enough about the subject to become MDs, PhDs, and social workers who treat women with PPD.

It wasn’t until this past conference that I just attended in Minneapolis that it dawned on me that….hey, wait a second, I think I’ve found my tribe!  I’ve always felt like I shared a common bond with the amazing ladies that are members of PSI, but I have to say I’ve never felt such a natural bond with people from different parts of the country and with all different personalities and backgrounds–than I felt at the PSI conference last week.  I felt incredibly comfortable and at home, despite the fact that I was in a city I’ve never been to (and had never previously thought of visiting).  Being with this group of women helped me to feel like I was at home.

Most of us are survivors of a postpartum mood disorder.  Most have dedicated their lives to supporting women from a research and/or support basis as social workers, lactation consultants, midwives, doulas, therapists, and founders of PPD support organizations in their local communities.  I am a PPD survivor, blogger and book author who shares their desire to spread awareness about postpartum mood disorders and providing mothers with the support they need during the postpartum period.  I’d like to do more, but I just haven’t figured out what exactly yet.

These ladies are caring, dedicated, down to earth, and amazing.   They are far from catty, competitive and superficial–attributes I remember all too well among fellow students and even among colleagues at work.  It felt good and natural to be with them, and I must say that I look up to each and every one of them.  I have so much respect and admiration for all of them.  They make me realize I have certain shortcomings that prevent me from doing what they do each and every day, working directly with women who need help.  They inspire me to want to do more for mothers out there!

I had such a great time in those 2 short days I spent at the conference, and so looking forward to seeing them all again at next year’s conference at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill!

A Must Read: Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy”

Well, I am at a point in which I’ve got so many ideas, but not enough time to post anything.  Until, that is, I spotted in my Facebook news feed this morning the New York Times article by John Schwartz titled “Words That Hurt and Kill: Lessons for Society From Bullying and Its Psychic Toll” about Emily Bazelon’s book titled “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.”

As the title of this book suggests, the author touches on bullying–a far-from-new-phenomenon–and the importance of empathy,  defeating the culture of bullying by acknowledging its complexity, and encouraging bystanders to be upstanders (those who stand up for victims).  Laws alone will NOT prevent bullying from occurring.  I hear all the time the lament that “Well, I don’t understand why everyone is making a big deal out of bullying.  Bullying has been around forever.  I grew up with bullying.  My parents grew up with bullying.  Back then, we just dealt with it.  Nowadays, kids don’t seem to want or know how to deal with it.  Instead, they’re copping out by killing themselves.”

Well, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, don’t forget that we are now in the age of social media.  Back when I was a kid, there was NO social media.   Heck, there weren’t even cell phones.  With text messaging, Youtube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of sites you don’t even want to know about but are popular among teens, the impact of bullying can be extremely devastating to a young person who hasn’t mastered coping, self care and real-world survival skills, may be lacking in self esteem,  and may not get much in the way of support and encouragement from family members and friends.  The bar has been raised in terms of the extent of cruelty that individuals are capable of carrying out because these are no longer face to face confrontations.  Take, for example, trolls.  We have all witnessed at least one troll in action in our interactions online.  Usually, it’s in the form of a nonsensical and completely outrageous and completely off-tangent remark that is filled with hate.  You wouldn’t normally see these comments spoken to someone in person, right?    Yes, it’s so much easier to be cruel online than it is in person.

In terms of the in-person bullying, the isolation tactics and backstabbing of cliquey girls, the racist remarks, the physical intimidation tactics, the verbal intimidation tactics….these still occur in school.  If schools and home life are anything like what I experienced back when I was a teenager–i.e., lack of school counselor support and awareness on the part of school staff, lack of support at home, lack of upstanders, lack of empathy–these behaviors (with or without the social media) can result in a very detrimental experience for the bullied child.  I believe depression rates are higher now than they’ve ever been before.  Maybe because more people are speaking up about their experiences and with the aid of social media, news and information on bullying incidents are much more accessible to everyone than ever before, there is the perception that depression rates are higher.  At the same time, access to mental healthcare services in this country is still so sadly lacking.  And then you have the extreme situations, like Columbine and Virginia Tech, in which the bullied exact their revenge.  I don’t remember incidents like those growing up.  Nope, I don’t.

Ms. Bazelon touches on some points that I have previously touched upon:

  • Some individuals are more resilient (via a combination of genetics and environmental factors) and will tend to come out of bullying and cyberbullying incidents much less scathed than those who are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.  It would be nice if we can figure out just which students fall into each bucket to increase the likelihood of preventing situations from developing and/or getting out of hand.
  • It was only in the past decade that states put the first anti-bullying laws in place, in the aftermath of Columbine, Phoebe Prince’s bullycide (MA), Tyler Clementi’s bullycide (NJ).
  • There seems to be a tendency to label non-bullying behaviors as bullying.  In other words, people are using the word “bullying” so much that this overuse is diluting true acts of bullying.  We need to stop overusing the word because it is not helping matters.

Ms. Bazelon is clearly objective in her presentation of situations she writes about in her book, even as far as showing what I refer to as a neutral take for the sake of presenting the science behind teenage behavior (i.e., the part of the brain that manages impulsiveness and judgment, referred to as the frontal lobe, is not fully developed as of yet) and why the punishment of teenagers is meted out in juvenile rather than adult terms.  Though that is far from an excuse for certain atrocious behaviors that bullying can all too often entail (and believe me, when I read about some of these bullying cases, I wish for every last person that has anything to do with a child’s bullycide to be punished to the FULLEST extent of the law), as they become adults and as long as they are provided counseling (instead of jail time), bullies can see the error of their ways and shed their bullying selves completely.  Some bullies have even gone as far as becoming anti-bullying activists with a mission to speak to schools around the country.

This book needs to be read by not just middle and high school staff, but by all parents.  I fervently believe as many people as possible should read it so there is a widespread understand of the culture of bullying, how to prevent it, how to support the victims, and how to inspire bystanders to become upstanders.

The article leave us with this nugget to chew on as we look at the road before us.  A road in which we need minds to come together to figure out how we need to handle bullying, given all the complexities Ms. Bazelon mentions in her book:

“Ultimately, Ms. Bazelon wisely warns us, we still have to try to let kids be kids.  [Otherwise] ‘We risk raising kids who don’t know how to solve problems on their own, withstand adversity or bounce back from the harsh trials life inevitably brings.’ And so, she says with a sigh: ‘It’s a tricky balance to strike, the line between protecting kids and policing them. But we have to keep trying to find it.’”

Please click here and here to previous blog posts for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this postpartum depression blog.

Hey Doc, Ask Me Why

Happy New Year!  It’s been 17 days since my last post.  Christmas is my favorite holiday, but with Christmas comes a lot of preparation (e.g., shopping, decorating, having people over).  So much goes into preparation for a holiday that lasts as long as any other day.  And *poof* it’s over.  And then the new year comes around.  And I am NOT crazy about celebrating new years.  Nope, not at all.  It’s just another reminder that time is flying by at warp speed.  Speaking of warp speed, here’s a picture that popped up in my Facebook news feed from George Takei of Star Trek fame on New Year’s Day.  It says it all for me.

Well, anyway, I’ve been waiting for that one blog post / news article to inspire me to blog….and I finally found one today.  Today, my inspiration came up on my Facebook newsfeed from two individuals dedicated to the fight against bullying:  Jessica from My Kindness Counts and Mike Urry from His Name Was Steven.

Watch this (*** This video may be triggering if you are suffering from depression***):

The video shows several teens urging on doctors to ask “Why” a young individual is complaining of not being able to sleep and/or having chronic stomach aches and/or headaches and/or experiencing weight loss.  It’s because, as the video states,  “Sometimes what’s bothering your patients isn’t visible to the naked eye.”  Bullying is the cause of all too many missed days of school for kids/teens, both out of fear of being bullied and due to the oftentimes debilitating physical symptoms caused by anxiety and depression.  Doctors shouldn’t merely whip out their script pad and start scribbling out prescriptions for antidepressants and/or medications to relieve physical symptoms, like stomach aches and headaches.  They should ask “Why.  Why are you not able to sleep, have stomach aches and/or have headaches?  What’s going on?  How’s school?  If you feel the need to talk to someone about what is going on, I can recommend someone.  Sometimes, all it takes is for someone who understands what you are going through to help you see that you are not alone and you will get through this.”

All doctors who have young patients need to know the correlation of certain symptoms during certain times in a young person’s life might be tied to teenage angst/depression.  Here’s an excerpt in my book that speaks to all this:

[Depression] is misunderstood not just by the public at large, but by medical professionals as well, and largely because there is no singular cause. Though the word depression implies a mental condition that impacts a person’s thoughts and feelings, its symptoms—caused by a combination of biological and psychosocial factors—are physical, affecting the way a person eats, sleeps, and functions……..Before I experienced PPD, I…..thought feeling sad was the same thing as being depressed. But now I know better. I know that depression not only causes an individual to feel low and hopeless, it can also change sleep and eating patterns and cause a whole host of other physiological symptoms. I seriously think the difference should be taught in school at a young age so kids don’t grow into adults still confusing the two terms with each other. That would be one way to combat the stigma!

[Sleep] and appetite disturbances (including nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain) are physical symptoms of depression, while mood swings, sadness, and restlessness are emotional symptoms of depression.

Those who aren’t aware that these physical and emotional symptoms are due to depression and anxiety will, instead of seeking treatment for those mood disturbances, mistakenly think that the digestive system is to blame for the appetite disturbances, stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. The diagnosis may turn out to be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that is usually caused by stress, with the goal of treating the irritable bowel, when the underlying cause, which is anxiety in this case, is not properly addressed.

And if you read the following excerpt from my book, you’ll see why this video got my attention so much.  It’s disturbing just how lacking in knowledge of mental health issues (or even teenage issues, in general) doctors were back when I was a teenager….and how it hasn’t changed much, apparently, three decades later.

With PPD, I suffered from lack of appetite and rapid weight loss. I never had that growing up. My teenage weight was always steady and under one hundred pounds. (Wow, those were the good ol’ days!) I was just prone to anxiety, which caused such physical symptoms as dry heaving, nausea, and stomachaches. You would think my doctor back then would have attributed those symptoms to anxiety, but it never came up. He never asked me questions to try to get to the bottom of it. Not much difference in the medical profession from the 1970s and now. What a shame! I can distinctly recall experiencing dry heaves each morning as I was getting ready for school, not having any appetite to eat breakfast but forcing it down anyway because my mother insisted I eat. Upset stomachs and a burning sensation in my gut were a regular occurrence…..ultimately my nervous stomach occurrences slowly but surely stopped after I graduated from high school. If you looked at my photos from my junior high and high school years, you’d see a shell of a person—all skinny, withdrawn, and unhappy looking.

So, are you hearing us, docs?  You go into the medical profession wanting to help others to stay healthy and to treat their health issues.  Well, I sincerely hope medical schools are ensuring that doctors-in-training recognize the symptoms of depression and treat their patients accordingly.  And for general practitioners who currently have young patients, I sincerely hope they are well aware of the issues that youths face and know when they should ask “Why.”

NOTE:  Please refer to my recent blog post for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this postpartum depression (PPD) blog.

We Need Empathy and Anti-Bullying Programs in Every School, Not to Mention Make Our Mental Healthcare System a National Priority!

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from depression and are sensitive to negative news events ***

Today was a day that will go down in the history books as one of the worst school shootings in this country.  So many young children and school employees killed.  I write with a heavy heart.  I am praying for the families who have lost loved ones in today’s tragedy.  And I am praying for all the survivors who witnessed what happened.

It’s very coincidental that I have been planning to put up in the next day or so another post about bullying, teenage angst, empathy, and the state of our current school culture and what I believe we desperately need if we are to make a difference for our children.  They are our future.

The way it works for me is, as I come across articles in the news/blog posts that catch my interest, if I don’t have time to blog about it right away, I save them to my “Next Posts” folder to provide inspiration for future blog posts.  I have the following 6 links about bullying and empathy saved in that folder:

Onward to Change:

Support for Teens:

Educational Info:

Links to Resources:

  • Please refer to the Anti-bullying/Teen Resources links I list on the right side of my blog
  • Please refer to my recent blog post for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this PPD blog
  • Start Empathy Facebook page

I’m writing this post to help me process the news that hit me as I left work today.  I had no idea this had even happened until after 3:00 pm today, hours after it took place, because I never had a chance to go onto the Internet, as it was a really busy day at work and no one at work brought it up…..not until a colleague mentioned it to me shortly before I was supposed to leave the office for the weekend.

I posted this on my Facebook timeline on my way home from work:

We really need to do something that will end these senseless killings. More mental health programs, for one. More empathy programs in schools too. In all school systems, for all school-aged children. I think if we made these changes, we have a better shot at making a difference.

It will take a few days for the investigation to determine the circumstances that led to this tragedy.  But seeing how it happened in a school, like so many of the other school massacres that took place in the past decade, I am pretty certain that it’s issues stemming from school days/environment that drove the shooter to choose this school as the backdrop for seeking vengeance or playing out whatever was going on his mind, spurred on by what could have been years of bullying and/or other emotionally scarring incidents that occurred in school.

I cannot even begin to imagine what the families who lost their children are going through.  Tears welled up in my eyes during my commute home and before, during and after dinner with my family.  And now I sit here with a lump in my throat. And then I see my news feed show posts and links to blog posts criticizing anyone who would express any opinions on the tragedy.  In all honesty, I’m not writing this post out of disrespect for those who were senselessly killed today or their families now grieving.   I am so sad, I had to get my thoughts out.

I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD), and now I’m a PPD advocate.  I wasn’t about to let my experience merely fade away with my recovery.  I want to share my story and try to help others, to make a difference for other moms by making them feel less alone in their experience and help empower them with knowledge so they can understand why it happens so they feel less guilty and more empowered to recognize symptoms and know their treatment options.  I want to help spread awareness and stomp out the stigma associated with mental health issues (not just maternal).  Bottom line, I’m trying to prevent other moms from suffering the way that I had suffered.

Back during my school days, I was a victim of prejudism and bullying, and now I’m an anti-bullying advocate.  I want to do what I can to make a difference for children and teenagers who feel alone in their experience, lack self esteem, and don’t know where to go for support–all of which describes the nightmare of my teenage years, from the time I started 7th grade until I left for college.  Bottom line, I’m trying to prevent other youth from suffering the way that I had suffered.

As I conclude this post, I just wanted to ask that we all hold our loved ones closer as we struggle to process this senseless tragedy.   If you’re wondering, like I’m wondering, how we can put an end to tragic suicides and shootings in our schools, ask yourselves:

  • Do we want to end bullying and bullycides?  If so, then realize we have the power to make a difference….don’t just continue to sit there and complain about the incidents of bullying and bullycide. Let’s work within our communities to come up with ways to prevent these incidents from happening.  We can’t wait for schools to do it because schools are dependent on budgets, and as we all know, budgets now are being cut down to the lowest levels ever.  We have to think outside the box.  Where it concerns the safety of our children, we can no longer tolerate the “Oh, but we can’t establish anti-bullying / empathy programs because it will cost us money that we don’t have” attitudes we’ve had for years.  If it takes state anti-bullying laws to be passed, like in New Jersey, then so be it.  If state laws are not passed, then we need to work with the Board of Education and district schools to incorporate empathy in each school’s curriculum and/or establish empathy programs for all school-age children from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • Do we teach our kids to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves?   If so, then be a positive role model and lead by example.  Model empathy in our daily interactions with others.   Have your child be kind to and accepting of his/her fellow students, and avoid excluding others because that, after all, is a form of bullying.  Encourage him/her to stand up for others who are being bullied, rather than acting as merely a bystander.
  • Do we want to help our children/teens find the right help/support when we realize they are experiencing challenges in school and/or emotional/behavioral issues (e.g., lack of self esteem, depression, cutting, eating disorders)?   If so, then we need to find the right resources (i.e., counseling, mental health professionals, online support) for him/her as soon as possible.  Do not assume that it must just be some passing phase/part of growing up, being in denial that your child may need such help.  DO NOT WAIT and think that things will resolve on their own because they WON’T.  Put aside any qualms about stigma relating to mental health issues, as it’s not going to help your child.

We need to strive to make our schools safe for our children and for the staff to whom we entrust the care of our children.  In the words of our President: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”    Granted, we are no doubt in need of stricter regulations that will help prevent the wrong people from getting access to guns.  But much more importantly, we are in dire need when it comes to improvements in mental healthcare.   Former First Lady Mr. Rosalynn Carter’s book “WITHIN OUR REACH: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” is a must read if you want to get a better understanding of the reality of our mental healthcare system as it stands today.  I’m sure there are many other books that can be read about this, but her book was the only one I’ve read (she signed my copy of it at the Postpartum Support International and Marce Society conference I attended in 2010).  It’s a quick read and  does a very good job summarizing today’s state of affairs.  This article I just stumbled across on Alternet.com titled “In the Wake of Another Mass Shooting, Let’s Talk About America’s Dangerously Gutted Mental Healthcare System,” by Lynn Stuart Parramore is also a must-read.

WE NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!   Or we are going to continue to see bullying and cyberbullying–and unfortunately shootings–claiming the lives of innocent young people.

October is National Bullying Awareness Month

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from depression and are sensitive to negative news events ***

Boy, am I ever late in writing this blog post, with only 2-1/2 days left to October!   Things have been ever soooo busy in my neck of the woods!   While there are so many articles out there about bullying from not just this one month but in general, I wanted to focus on a few things right here, right now.  It took me a couple weeks to process the Amanda Todd story and feel ready to post my thoughts in a blog post.

Here goes…

1.  The frequency of bullying is increasing.

2.  Parents and other adults are crucial in role modeling and raising the younger generation to be empathetic.

3.  Twitter and Facebook must find a way to help monitor activity for suicidal warnings.  There must be a way for these 2 extremely popular and key social media sites to partner with an organization like National Suicide Prevention to intervene when there is a clear risk for suicide in a tweet/post.  Either that, or it’s simply a matter of parents and/or other loved ones who also use these sites to “friend” their kids on Facebook  and open a Twitter account to “follow” them (plenty of people use pseudonyms).

4.  Parents need to be engaged and aware of their children’s activities, especially their online activities (including blocking inappropriate sites that are a breeding ground for disaster when it comes to their own children’s well-being and–should their children be the ones tormenting someone else’s children online–the well-being of other children).

5.  Bystanders–be it other students, people online (if this relates to cyber-bullying), and/or teachers–should speak up when they witness any bullying incidents.  If everyone maintains the attitude that it’s “Not my concern,” we will stay in this rut that we find ourselves in, with children feeling unnecessarily alone, desperate, and hopeless….and feeling like they have no other options to help them escape their torment and pain but to end their own lives.

The Amanda Todd case raises awareness of how relentless cyber-bullying can be and how vicious people (kids, teens, adults) can behave when it comes to someone whom they DON’T EVEN KNOW.  Her case is an example of how a misunderstood teenage girl felt so alone in her suffering, was unfortunate enough (and to this day I don’t even know how this got as far as it did….where were the parents in all this?) to have encountered what was likely a pedophile (the police are still investigating and I truly hope they find this scumbag) who stalked her–and whose actions of taking advantage of a young girl online–started her off on a road of torment, harassment, and constant school moves to try to escape the kids who made fun of her and even beat her up.

EVERY SINGLE PERSON who contributed to Amanda’s torment must be held accountable and receive punishment befitting their involvement.  Their actions led to the death of someone.  In my book, it’s equivalent to a gang of bullies physically beating someone to death with their bare hands.  And the countless hate pages that went up after she died?  Instead of letting her spirit rest in peace, they are hell bent on tormenting it even after death.  These people are so rotten, so malicious, and so vile.  The pure evil and hate that exists out there is horrific.  How these people can stand to behave like this and feel good about themselves is beyond me!  Let’s just say that if justice doesn’t prevail with the police knocking on their doors, then I pray that KARMA will!

Rant over….

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book.

  1. Nature Versus Nurture in Relation to PPD
  2. PMS versus PMDD

And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years, some of which do specifically address bullying as an epidemic in this society (scroll down to see my links to Anti-Bullying/Teen Resources on the right side of my blog, along with all my other links):

  1. Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression
  2. The Mental Cost Behind a Nomadic Childhood Experience
  3. Depression and Teen Suicides…It Will Get Better
  4. You are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child
  5. Empathy Makes the World Go Round
  6. New Jersey Leads the Way Yet Again
  7. Disturbing Teenage Trend…Hey Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?
  8. 121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline
  9. I Am Titanium
  10. Join the Anti-Bullying Movement

I’m going to end this post with the following food for thought:
All of us have the power to make a difference.  We just have to work together to effect positive change.  Please.  Let’s stop this horrible epidemic.  Now.

I Am Titanium

I’ve loved David Guetta’s song Titanium since the first time I heard it on the radio several weeks ago.  And today I decided I had to blog about it.  Why?  Because the lyrics hit so, so close to home for me.  And the music (instrumentals by David Guetta, vocals sung beautifully and hauntingly by Sia) is awesome too!

This is my interpretation of the song………

You can speak as loud as you want, but I can’t hear you.
You can criticize me all you want, but all your words just ricochet.
Why?  Because I’m bulletproof.
You can try to shoot me down, but I will keep on getting up.
You can fire away at me with your words, but I won’t fall.
Why? Because I’m titanium.
You can cut me down with your mean words, but it’s you who have more to lose.
Why? Because sticks and stones may break my bones and words will never hurt me.
You are just wasting your time, and you will one day look back and realize what you did was wrong.
Oh?  And no one likes bullies.

I appreciate the music and David Guetta’s lyrics….but not necessarily the official video.  After I watched it a few times, I felt the ending leaves people hanging at the end.  Try as I might, I couldn’t feel positive about the ending.   What happens to the kid and the SWAT team?  The kid in the beginning is in a school setting, coming to after what appears to be a blast in the hallway.  When I watched it for the first time, I’m like, okay, was this a kid that was bullied?  I realize this video is about inner strength, but the whole supernatural powers theme is a bit of a stretch.  With these wonderful lyrics, Guetta could have made it all about bullying and inner strength, teaching youth–at a time that bullying is so much in the spotlight–that you ARE strong and you WON’T let the bully–despite all his attempts to exert dominance–get his jollies by making you feel like crap.

And it’s for that reason that I am posting a link to the YouTube video with the real lyrics rather than the official Titanium video.

Now, looking back at my teenage years, I wish I had had access to these lyrics and the many resources that exist for teenagers today.  Teenagers who, as I had blogged about in past posts, struggle with their self esteem, with other kids saying mean things, behaving meanly, isolating, backstabbing, laughing at you, and gossiping.  Those days sucked for me.  And to those who stumble on this blog post and are in the same boat, please remember that NOT ALL people out there are that way.  There are resources to help you deal with what is troubling you.

And just remember, you are MUCH BETTER than they are.  You have the ability to be strong.  Just like the song lyrics say, you can walk away/ignore them.  No matter what they say or do, you will stay strong.  Never mind what nasty things others people say.  It’s not you, it’s them.  They will eventually learn that what they did was wrong.

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I’ve blogged about teenagers being at their most vulnerable emotionally, adjusting to their physical/hormonal changes and having to cope with self esteem issues.  Depression rates climb in teen years.  For girls, depression means a greater risk for postpartum depression (PPD) down the road.  This is so important and I hope one day will be understood by the general population.  With understanding will come a reduction in the number of moms suffering from PPD and the stigma associated with maternal mental health issues.

121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline

Facebook can be such a great resource, let me tell you.  Today, I saw a post from Stand for the Silent, which I had heard about from watching the Bully movie. The post announced this 24/7 helpline, 121help.me (Call 1-855-201-2121 (toll free) that is available for youth in need of someone non-judgmental to talk to, someone who will listen and provide some counseling over the phone.  Note that this is not meant to be a crisis/suicide hotline (for emergency situations, dial 911).  Calls at 121help.me are answered by counselors affiliated with the North American Alliance of Child Helplines.

Stand for the Silent is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2010 by a group of students from the Oklahoma State University after they heard the story of Kirk and Laura Smalley’s son Ty Field-Smalley.  At the age of eleven, Ty took his own life after being suspended from school for retaliating against a kid that was bullying him for over two years.  Ty’s story was one of those featured in the Bully movie.

I’m thankful for resources such as this that are available to help youth that may feel like they have no one they can talk to about their feelings.  Had I known about this resource when I was a teenager, I more than likely would have called this helpline.  I know, since I’ve been through the angst that comes with the isolating experience of adolescence–especially if you don’t have many friends–that having support is crucial.  If I didn’t have the Chinese teen club and Chinese church that I belonged to at that time–despite the fact that I didn’t quite feel like I fit in with those groups either (both groups were not made up of kids from my high school)–my loneliness might have completely taken over me.  As I mentioned in prior posts, I had no real friends in the high school I attended.  I was constantly fighting with my parents and one of my brothers.  I had no other relatives that lived near me or who were in a position to be of any help.  There might have been a couple of individuals that I sort of confided in about what I was going through, but I could only divulge so much to them.  What I needed was to talk to someone non-judgmental and neutral….someone who didn’t really know me.  Someone I felt comfortable confiding in, without that person potentially using the info to my detriment later on (as I learned that, unfortunately, girls tend to be backstabbers and gossipers).

If you are a teen that is going through a challenging point in your life, please remember that it is very important to find an outlet for your emotions.  Whether it be talking to a non-judgmental individual or journaling (writing thoughts down)…..you have to let it out.  Journaling (or even blogging) can be very therapeutic.  In the process of blogging or following a Facebook support page like Stand for the Silent, you will come across others who are in similar situations, so you will see that you are far from alone in your experience.   You will see that there are many good and caring individuals out there.  You will see others, like me, who have been where you are and have survived and have used their past experiences to help others by increasing awareness of the importance of resources like this for our youth, as well as starting up anti-bullying initiatives or support pages for teens.

My personal wish is to see more support services for teenage girls, as I feel they go through so much physiologically (and emotionally as a consequence) with the hormonal changes that come with the onset of menstruation and certain behaviors/emotions (aggression, moodiness, low self esteem, eating disorders from wanting to appear attractive, mood disorders like depression).  See my past post on why it’s so important to educate girls early of the physiological changes they will go through and the difference between premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).  The more support services and awareness, the less stigma and struggling through these physiologically- and emotionally-challenged years there will be among teenage girls….and the less risk there is for postpartum depression (PPD) onset down the road, as a history of depression is a risk factor for PPD.  It’s a vicious cycle I talk about in my book that we need to address early on.  Being proactive, rather than reactive (waiting til you’ve become depressed to do something).  If we were successful in doing this (along with seeing a growth in the numbers and types of postpartum support services), I fervently believe we will see a reduction in numbers of mothers suffering from PPD.

I want to see less suffering, more empathy, and more standing up for the silent (those that are being bullied…and I’m not solely referring to schools as the backdrop because bullying happens among adults at work too).   There is really no excuse for us not to achieve these if we put our minds to it!

Wow, Didn’t Realize My Join the Anti-Bullying Movement Post Comes Up First in Searches!

I’m surprised to say that, and I only realized this a couple of days ago, that the 1st link that comes up under the term “Join the Anti-Bullying Movement” on Yahoo and Google is mine!  It’s not as if I coined the phrase, and it’s not a new concept, so not sure why…especially since my blog is dedicated primarily to postpartum depression/maternal mental health issues and awareness.  But I’ll take it!  🙂

This is an important issue, and it is so disheartening when you hear, just today that another child, this time a 14 year old in Iowa, has become another victim of bullycide (the term used for children who commit suicide as a consequence of bullying).   Bullying must stop!  The only way that’s going to happen, though, is for students, school staff, and parents to band together and prevent further tragedies from occurring.  No child should have to feel so victimized that they succumb to depression, low self esteem, cutting, etc.  I guest posted a few days ago over at the blog My Kindness Counts about my reflections on the movie “Bully” that was recently released.  My post includes things we can all do to to try to put an end to bullying. My Kindness Counts is written by a young girl named Jessica, whose mission is to encourage young people from around the nation to work together to come up with more positive ways to address bullying in our communities.   I applaud her efforts, as well as the efforts of a growing number of other young folks in this country, to try to help fellow teens get through what I refer to as some of the most challenging years of their lives.

The roots of depression most often stem from early childhood through teenage years.  Early bonding experiences with parents, stability of living conditions, quality friendships and an environment in which the parents serve as positive role models and are nurturing are key to minimizing self esteem issues that seem to be what so many youth struggle with.  Verbal, emotional and physical abuse, a parent(s) that is depressed and/or an alcoholic, and bullying in school all take a tremendous toll on a child’s sense of security and self esteem.  The result of low self esteem include eating disorders, cutting, doing drugs, drinking, and depression. It doesn’t help that the teenage years are a time in which physical and behavioral changes occur that challenge self confidence levels and a sense of identity (in which a sense of belonging is important) as well.  The way a young person reacts to adversity, like bullying for example, depends on his/her overall emotional health and level of self confidence.

Our youth represent our future.  Let’s help make sure their teenage years are positive experiences.  Let’s help make sure depression rates don’t continue to climb.  Let’s build a culture of empathy.  Let’s speak up about mental health issues and keep the attitudes about these issues going in a positive direction via the daily dialogues we have, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug with a See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, there’s nothing wrong, they’ll get over it, attitude….and an attitude that perpetuates the stigma and ignorance that has kept us in the dark, all blind, deaf, and mute for far too long.  The statistics indicate that each and every one of us knows someone who is struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or some other mental illness.  We need to get a grip on reality, smell the coffee…whatever!  You get the picture….or do you?  I surely hope so!

Join the Anti-Bullying Movement

I am excited!  Why?  There is steadily growing support and realization that something must be done to stop the bullying that is so negatively impacting our youth.  Bullying hurts.  It hurts emotionally.  It damages self esteem at a time when kids are at their most vulnerable…their teenage years. Bullying causes depression.  Bullying has the potential to kill.  And this includes cyber bullying.

States like New Jersey are trying to keep bullying at bay with legislation. In fact, 36 states include cyberbullying in their anti-bullying laws.  But what I see happening here in New Jersey is that our school systems are struggling with the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.  What we also need is awareness.  Kids and parents alike must all be aware that bullying is an extremely serious matter that can potentially have irreversible consequences.  Now with social media so prevalent, with technological capabilities like texting, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, and the Internet in general, we need to consider cyber bullying as a huge concern.  Parents need to know how best to ensure their children’s safety while using such social media.  Speaking of which, I will be attending an anti-bullying and cyberbullying session for parents in my school district next Thursday night.

Some of my regular blog followers already know how I feel about bullying, as they’ve seen me blog in the past about it.  So, what’s it all got to do with postpartum depression (PPD)?  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out this previous post about bullying, which includes many links to articles/resources.  Here’s another previous post you may be interested in checking out, written in the wake of Tyler Clementi’s suicide in 2010.

If you haven’t heard by now, the Weinstein Company is behind the new movie “Bully” coming to certain theaters throughout the country, starting with New York City next Friday, March 30th!   From the bottom of my heart, thank you Harvey Weinstein, for putting a spotlight on such an important issue!  You may have heard that there are efforts underway to try to change the “R” rating (due to the use of the F word six times) to a PG-13 rating.  I along with the over 463,000 people who have signed the petition started by 17-year-old Katy Butler, fervently believe that this movie must be seen by all middle and high school students!

I love Cynthia Lowen’s Huffington Post article titled “Give Kids the Respect They’re Due,” which supports the rationale for leaving the F words in the movie.

“BULLY bears witness to the violence, intimidation, threats, derogation and abuse 13 million American kids will experience this year. We made this film to give voice to those for whom bullying is a daily reality and to honestly depict bullying in such a way as to make it impossible to dismiss as ‘kids being kids’ or a ‘normal’ rite of passage…… To take away this language, or prevent kids from hearing the words that reflect their own experiences, is to look the other way, to gloss over the suffering and to continue to perpetrate the myth that has allowed bullying to become so entrenched in our communities. To pretend this language doesn’t exist denies bullied kids who wake up day after day, and get on that bus, or walk through the halls of their schools, knowing the gauntlet of harm they’re likely to face, the dignity and acknowledgement of bravery they’re due.”

What I’d like to ask you to do is to join me in the anti-bullying movement today.  Here are some of the ways in which you can do so, other than reading my two previous posts on the topic (links in the body of my post above):

  1. Click here to find out more about the movie and to watch the trailer.  Go see it, if it comes to a theater near you!  I will be going to see it soon after the New York City premiere happening on March 30th.
  2. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, please do so!
  3. Have you taken a photo with the NO BULLY sign yet?
  4. Become familiar with your state’s anti-bullying laws. Participate in your school district’s anti-bullying initiatives.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for joining the movement!

An Update to My February 29, 2012 Post

Just a brief check-in today. This was another very stressful week at work, though I did have a chance to take today off for my quarterly haircut and highlights.  I finally felt brave enough to ask my hairdresser to cut my hair to chin length…something I haven’t done since nearly 2 decades ago!  I feel like a new person!  It feels great! 🙂

However, I still have a couple personal matters that are causing me quite a bit of anxiety.  I am doing the best I can to keep the anxiety under control.  I am going to see my GI doctor on Monday to see what is causing all my esophageal discomfort.  Praying it’s nothing serious.  Still have very painful tendinitis in my right elbow, which my chiro refers quite logically to an occupational injury (i.e., computer overuse).

I have a few more posts lined up for the coming week.  The purpose of my brief check-in today is to point out that I added 2 photos to my post “Disturbing Teenage Trend….Hey, Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?”

New Children’s Book about Mommy’s Depression

I’m so excited about stumbling across this book titled “When My Mommy Cries” today via an article titled “There’s no one to blame: children’s book explains depression” in the Post-Standard.  Check out the article for more detailed information about the book, author, and upcoming book events.

Written by Crystal Godfrey LaPoint, it’s a book about a child living with depression…mommy’s depression, to be exact. The book comes with a CD that includes a recording of the book set to music, sheet music so young musicians or their parents can play the song themselves, and links to online mental health resources.  In the book, a little girl tries to understand her mommy’s sadness and the mommy reassuring her that it’s not her fault but it’s because of a condition called depression.  The mommy also reassures her child that she will always be there for her no matter what.  The age group this book is intended for children ages 6 to 12.

Crystal was inspired to write this book from her own experience both as a child of a depressed mother and a mother to 3 children while struggling with depression and anxiety. Thank you, Crystal, for publishing such a lovely book and joining the growing number of voices speaking up and breaking the silence that has existed around mental health.  We absolutely need to continue to hammer away the message that there is nothing to be ashamed about in terms of seeking help for depression.  It’s especially important to note that children of depressed parents are more likely to develop depression themselves.  In fact, this message is conveyed all throughout my own book.

An Update to My Last Post….

Just a brief check-in today, as I’m very, very tired. This week has been a stressful one at work.  I’ve also had a couple other personal matters that are causing me quite a bit of anxiety.  I am doing the best I can to keep the anxiety under control. On top of that, I’ve had post-mono and strep (I don’t remember if I mentioned I had them simultaneously since the first week of December) esophagus condition that seems to be lingering forever.  Feels like some sort of inflammation from the back of my throat down to my chest.  I’m on medication for that.  Then, over the weekend, my slowly deteriorating right elbow suddenly became 10x more painful than before, such that I had to see my chiro for the past couple of nights.  He informed me that I had tendonitis.  I love this chiro because the back/neck/arm numbness issues I used to have were successfully treated by him.  For my elbow, he used accupressure, electromuscular stimulation, and heating pad.  Got a couple more visits to go.  So far, so good.  I feel so much better now than a few days ago, that’s for sure!

Anyway, I will have a couple of posts up within the week.  The purpose of my brief check-in today is to point out that I added 2 drawings to my last post.  Please check them out!

Disturbing Teenage Trend….Hey, Stranger, Do You Think I’m Ugly or Pretty?

A Huffington Post article today written by Joyce McFadden and titled “Body Image: How Women Contribute to Girls Asking YouTube if They’re Ugly” grabbed my attention and finally convinced me I had to get my thoughts out, thoughts that have been brewing since the first article I saw the other day on Facebook posted by Mediabistro, written by Megan O’Neill and titled “Disturbing YouTube Trend: Teens Ask the World ‘Am I Ugly or Pretty?”

The latter article pointed out–what really goes without saying–that teens posting videos of themselves seeking stranger input on their appearance is just asking for malice, trouble, to be put down farther than before they posted the darn videos.  The Internet is laced with trolls who have nothing better to do than say the most vile things…things that you would never be able to get away with in person.  Trolls are cowards who have deep-rooted issues.  They need counseling…and badly.  Because the average person will not have the desire to say the kinds of vile things trolls say.  While there may be some nice people trying to convince these teens that they are beautiful just the way they are and at the end of the day it’s not necessarily about physical beauty but inward beauty (teens aren’t so concerned about that as getting approval about their appearance), this innocent–and desperate–plea is surely going to invite the worst comments imaginable from people.  There are all kinds out there.  We should know that by now.

I understand what these teens are going through.  They need validation, approval. Their self confidence is challenged by the physical changes they find themselves undergoing. They can’t go to their parents, relatives, or friends for objectivity; they need it from someone who doesn’t know them and can be truly objective…but they are seeking this objectivity from the completely wrong place.  I would call this misguided due to desperation of not knowing where else to turn.  It’s a shame they don’t for whatever reason feel comfortable with talking to someone like a counselor, good friend or loved one.

Here are some of the FB comments–from supposedly adults (I say supposedly when in actuality they could be teens posting with a fake profile, or they could actually be adults in which case I say they have absolutely no excuse to talk this way….they probably have children who are bullies as well)– posted in response to the Mediabistro article:

People who ask such questions get what they deserve.
If you have to ask… you’re probably hideous.
She should ask – “Am I stupid?”

My reaction?

[Insert 2 of the commenters’ names], that’s not very understanding of teens who have self esteem issues, now is it….What I want to know is where are the parents in all these examples? If they’re that hands-off and ignorant that their children are doing this, that’s indicative of a more seriously sad trend.

I sure as heck wouldn’t want these commenters as parents, and if they have children, they’re probably some of the ones posting these videos.  These comments actually sound just as bad as if they were coming from teens who don’t know better.  If they’re parents or grown-ups, they should be ashamed. If they’re teens, they need to grow up. Either way, these comments are completely lacking in empathy, callous (putting it nicely), and obviously said without any concern at all about these poor teenagers.  Therein lies the problem with videos like these seeking public opinion.  Sure, strangers don’t know you.  And they sure as heck don’t give a crap about you.

Anyway, unable to get objectivity from loved ones, they go to the only other place that many of these teens seek solace from….the Internet.  After all, we are in the age of social media.  But they don’t know the good places to turn to…Twitter folks who are there to exchange tweets with anyone needing support and encouragement, as well as websites like To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). There are online resources that deal with self esteem, like Kidshealth.org.

If these teens are anything like I was when I was a teenager, they probably don’t have many friends.  I wonder whether I’d be on Facebook if there was such a thing back when I was growing up. Nah, don’t think so. I was way too shy for any of that.  Even if these teens were to reach out via Facebook to their “friends” (some teenagers these days have 500-1000 FB “friends” due to peer pressure to impress each other on who has more friends or for the semblance of popularity, but at the end of the day, there are only a handful of true friends)–what do you think some of these teen FB “friends” would say in answer to a question like this that appears in their feed: “Hey, just wondering….do you think I’m ugly?”  I have no doubt some would try to be funny by saying something stupid and hurtful.  Anyway, who’d want their peers in school to know that they’re asking these questions in the first place?  This is why I limit my friends on Facebook to a small circle of people….people I know I can trust. The saying “It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, that matters” is highly relevant here.

I know you’ve probably heard this from other friends and loved ones and out there on the Internet and in books (but surely not the highly unhelpful beauty magazines that focus on none other than physical appearance), but I am going to say it anyway….beauty is not merely about physical appearance.  Beautiful physical appearances are made ugly by personalities that are mean, selfish, contemptuous, disdainful, condescending, hateful, and greedy.  I don’t know about you, but I believe in karma.  I believe that these negative attributes in the long run will come round and bite you in the a$$.

Don’t grow up giving a crap about what other people think about you and your appearance.  Ever hear the story of the Ugly Duckling?  Well, the duckling wasn’t ugly, just in its juvenile form.  But when it went and became a swan?

It was like, wow!  All the other creatures around it didn’t think it had it in him to become so beautiful.  Just like that ugly duckling, your beauty will also shine through when it is nice and ready.  When you find yourself–just like I found myself and started to love myself and know what I enjoy doing and have a better sense of the direction my life is taking–your beauty will shine through for all to see.  You need to graduate through various stages in life first.  Let yourself bud and mature. As teens, you are only just beginning your life’s journey.

As a teenager, I was quite the ugly duckling. It didn’t

help that I couldn’t afford to wear anything but the 5 or so sets of clothes I remember having to cycle through on a weekly basis, dreading to wear them around the attractive, preppy kids who had all the beautiful fair isle sweaters and the popular kids who wore trendy stuff.  I was skinny, unhappy/anxious looking, withdrawn, lacking in self esteem…just downright miserable all around. It took me until my mid 30s to find the road that was meant for me to travel–i.e., find the right guy to marry, move to a wonderful town, start a family, become a blogger and author with a mission (not forgetting to enjoy myself in the process), etc.

Now, as a parent, I am going to do my darndest to ensure that–knowing the inherent dangers of Internet use, the challenges faced by teenagers seeking to be accepted by their peers, the angst teenagers experience as they find themselves and deal with their changing physical/emotional selves a la puberty–my daughter’s Internet usage is monitored, she has a balance of activities she enjoys and studies, and I am ever mindful of her self esteem and overall mental health.  I will do the best I can to be nurturing, to parent in moderation (no extreme parenting), and to make sure her school life is a positive experience.  I am going to try to make sure she does NOT follow in my footsteps!

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years:

  1. Nature Versus Nurture in Relation to PPD
  2. PMS versus PMDD
  3. Bullying and Suicide…Teen Angst and Depression
  4. The Mental Cost Behind a Nomadic Childhood Experience
  5. Depression and Teen Suicides…It Will Get Better
  6. You are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child

Let me end this post with a very insightful passage from Joyce McFadden’s article:

We focus on beauty at the expense of all of the other things we could be encouraging and celebrating. Our girls are having trouble finding their own value because we ourselves struggle with the same. In her beautifully moving article, “Smaller Than Before,” Dr. Jessica Zucker (who trained under Carol Gilligan at Harvard and specializes in mothers, daughters and body image) shows us just how much we limit our appreciation of ourselves and each other with our narrow appraisals of what’s important.

Don’t let what society believes is important make you lose sight of what’s really important here:  YOU.